Is Your Backyard Safe?

During the summer season, the International Code Council urges homeowners to take the time to check their outdoor areas for potential safety hazards. Proper inspections now can help to keep your family and friends safe in the future. The International Code Council, a membership organization dedicated to building safety and fire prevention, develops the codes used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools. Most U.S. cities, counties and states that adopt codes choose the International Codes developed by the International Code Council.

Backyard Safety Tips

  • Practice constant, adult supervision around any body of water, including pools and spas. Nationally, drowning is a leading cause of death to children under five.
  • If you're considering a swimming pool purchase, contact your local Building Department first to determine exactly what permits are needed and what requirements you must follow.
  • In-ground and above-ground pools, including inflatable pools holding more than 24 inches of water, must be surrounded by a fence or other barrier at least four feet high. Any gates in the fence must be self-closing and self-latching.
  • Reserve a spot on a wall or fence near the pool for lifesaving devices, including a portable or mobile telephone.
  • Steps and ladders for above-ground pools should be secured or removed when the pool is not in use.
  • Use a cover for the pool when it is not in use.
  • Make sure drain covers are properly fitted and paired or have vacuum suction releases to prevent being trapped under water.
  • Consider installing a pool alarm that can alert if someone enters the pool.
  • Spa water temperatures should be set to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to avoid elevated body temperature, which could lead to drowsiness, unconsciousness, heat stroke or death.
  • Designate the grilling area as a "No Play Zone" and keep kids and pets well away until grill equipment is completely cool.
  • Check propane cylinder hoses for leaks before use.
  • Do not move hot grills.
  • Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals or kindling have already been ignited, and never use any flammable or combustible liquid other than charcoal starter fluid to get the fire going.
  • Don't leave toys, tools and equipment in the yard.
  • Keep steps, sidewalks and patios in good repair.
  • Check all swings, slides, playhouses and other structures for sharp objects, rusty metal pieces, breaks or weakened support pieces.
  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Important Backyard Safety Links

Decks and Balconies
Balconies can be at risk of collapsing if they are not properly constructed or if they are old. A common safety hazard occurs when balconies are nailed to buildings rather than being attached with the proper anchors or bolts. Nails are a poor method for attaching balconies to buildings because they work their way loose over time. Other safety hazards to look for are:

  • Split or rotting wood
  • Wobbly handrails or guardrails
  • Loose, missing or rusting anchors, nails or screws
  • Missing, damaged or loose support beams and planking
  • Poor end support of the balcony deck, joists or girders
  • Excessive movement of the balcony when walked on
  • Swaying or unstable balconies

Building or repairing to code, which requires a building permit and an inspection, will help ensure that the balcony is safe. The International Codes specify the amount of weight a balcony is required to support. However, be careful not to allow the balcony to become overcrowded. If the people on the structure have difficulty moving about, the balcony could be exceeding its capacity.

Grilling on or near combustible areas can be a fire hazard. It not only puts your family and visitors at risk, but, especially in condos and apartment buildings, can put your neighbors in danger as well. The most common grilling hazards are open flames and heat generated in the grill base that can be transferred to the wood of a balconies or the home's siding, causing a fire. When grilling, follow these safety tips:

  • Place the grill away from siding, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches
  • Periodically remove grease or fat buildup
  • Use only proper starter fluid and store the can away from heat sources
  • Check propane cylinder hoses for leaks before use
  • Do not move hot grills
  • Dispose of charcoal properly, keeping ash containers outside and away from combustible construction
  • Check with your local building or fire department to see what is required by code where you live

The International Fire Code prohibits the use of charcoal and gas grills and other open burning devices on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction. There are exceptions for certain homes and where buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

Swimming Pools
Because they can be attractive — and dangerous — to young children, in-ground and above-ground pools should be surrounded by a fence or other barrier. Small, inflatable pools must also be protected. The International Building Code states that any pool with more than 24 inches of water has to have a four-foot fence or other barrier around it. Any gates in the fence must be self-closing and self-latching. Other things to consider when installing a pool:

  • Building permit requirements
  • Zoning requirements
  • Electrical clearances and utility easements
  • Insurance policies